Julieta Granada, a star at 19 and off the LPGA at 32, plays her way back via the Symetra Tour

John Strege
Golf Digest

Most successful golf careers build to a crescendo, but Julieta Granada’s started with one. She was 19, a newly minted professional in her rookie LPGA season when she won the ADT Championship and the first $1 million prize in women’s golf.

The year was 2006. Granada, a Paraguayan, only had been exposed to the upside of professional golf at that point, unaware there could even be a downside.

“I came from a really good junior and amateur career,” the 2004 U.S. Girls' Junior champion said on Wednesday. “I had big expectations of what my career would be like.”

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Golf might not be a contact sport, but it packs a punch nonetheless, and Granada eventually found herself on the receiving end. From 2016 through 2018, while attempting to play through back pain, she missed the cut in 31 of 45 LPGA starts, and saw her playing opportunities dwindling to a scant few.

So it was that Granada, 32, cast aside pride and played the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s developmental circuit, in 2019. It was there that she regained her full LPGA membership for 2020 by finishing seventh on its money list.

<div class="caption"> Granada reacts to winning the $1 million prize at the 2006 ADT Championship. </div> <cite class="credit">S. Levin</cite>
Granada reacts to winning the $1 million prize at the 2006 ADT Championship.
S. Levin

The renowned French writer Victor Hugo called perseverance “the secret of all triumphs.” It indeed was the vehicle on which Granada depended in her return to the LPGA. The trials she has endured and overcome have provided her perspective, too.

“It’s not easy to go up and down,” said Granada, who earned $3.2 million in her other career LPGA starts. “I do appreciate the good times a lot more. When you’re young, you don’t think a lot about it. That rookie year, well, honestly, it’s the reason I’m still kind of playing. It’s that [financial] cushion that gave me room the last three years to support myself and my career and to give it another chance. The money I won helped me support my career through the bad years.”

The best of the bad years was 2016, only because she was an Olympian and Paraguay’s flagbearer in the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro.

“That was pretty cool,” Granada said. “I was honored to be chosen. It was a thrill. But in the back of my mind I knew I wasn’t hitting the ball well.”

<div class="caption"> Granada carried the flag for Paraguay during the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. </div> <cite class="credit">Cameron Spencer/Getty Images</cite>
Granada carried the flag for Paraguay during the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Her back issues had begun in the summer of 2015, “to the point that after a round I couldn’t stand up. But I was still playing well, making cuts comfortably, hitting the ball well.

“I decided to ride it out. That wasn’t best choice. At the end of 2015, I started to hit ball crooked. My back was still hurting, and nothing was solved. My body wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do in 2016, and I lost my card.”

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In the offseason, she began working with Dr. Greg Rose at the Titleist Performance Institute, addressing the issues that caused her back problems. She also had minor wrist surgery. In 2018, she saw progress, playing 15 events, but often missed cuts by a stroke or two.

Early this year, she won some mini-tour events and was optimistic, though given her LPGA status she was going to have to depend on Monday qualifiers to get into fields.

But before the first domestic event, the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix, she entered the Symetra Tour’s Skyigolf Championship and tied for second, losing in a playoff. Three weeks later, she tied for second in another Symetra Tour event, and a month later finished second in a third Symetra start.

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“I still wasn’t committed to playing the Symetra Tour,” she said. But in a Monday qualifier for the LPGA’s MEDIHEAL Championship in Daly City, Calif., she walked off the course after playing 11 holes.

“I was so tired. I went and had some food and was talking to my mom. I said, ‘Listen, I can’t keep this up, traveling all over the place, playing two tours.’”

By then, she knew she was on the cusp of making enough money on the Symetra Tour to earn a promotion to the LPGA, so she devoted the rest of the year to regaining her card.

“It was a tough one,” she said. “It’s not easy to say I’m going to go back to the Symetra. It’s humbling. I’ve been on the LPGA for lots of years. But it was the choice I had to make.”

It obviously was the right choice, too. “I’m excited for what next year will bring,” she said.

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Originally Appeared on Golf Digest

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